On Thursday, April 20, the Searcy Public Library hosted a second town hall meeting in order to answer questions from citizens about how the proposed library will affect them financially versus how it will benefit them. The citizens of Searcy will vote on the construction of the library on May 9. Should the vote pass, there will be a 3-mill property tax increase, adding an additional $3 per $1000 of each household property’s determined taxable value to the previous mill rate.
According to Darla Ino, the library director for the White County Regional Library Systems, the total project will cost an estimated $13 million, which would break down to $68 per year per household, which comes out to $5.66 per month. Private and nonprofit raised donations, grants and funds from the federal, state and county level would help alleviate some of the costs, though the library would primarily be funded at the local level. However, Ino said she believes the benefits far outweigh the financial cost.
“We know libraries have a positive impact on their local economy far greater than the cost of service,” Ino said.
The project began with a petition signing after a needs assessment in December 2015, followed by the building plan being completed in August 2016 and Sapp Design Associates Architects, located in Springfield, Missouri, being chosen as the architectural firm. Vice President of Sapp Design James C. Stufflebeam spoke on behalf of the project and said he personally loves working with libraries because of its positive impact on the community. The Springfield, Missouri, business has also worked with libraries in Joplin, Missouri, and Mountain Home, Arkansas.
“Libraries act as a community center, not just a house for books,” Stufflebeam said. “(This library) would add a unique identity to Searcy by becoming a community symbol.”
Stufflebeam went into detail about the primary design of the building, though he said the budget drives the project. Should the budget change, they would have to adjust accordingly, though he doubts this would include any major changes. The new library would be located on Moss Street, with the backside of the building being settled in view of a creek with a renovated landscape. There are plans for a drop-off zone, a drive through service window and new parking lot would allow for 108 new spots, which would appease complaints and requests made by many people in Searcy, according to Ino.
There would be two floors, with the first floor containing a children’s section, meeting room and outdoor terrace with vending options. The second floor would contain the regular stacks, over 20 computers in the public access zone, an Arkansas history section, a meeting room, a conference and an “unconference room,” which would couches and soft furniture for a more laid back kind of meeting place.
Ino included that there would be extra space upstairs for expanded stacks and extra features.
“We could get special exhibits with more space,” Ino said. “Libraries are more than just books these days.”
The presentation was followed by comments and questions both positive and negative. The comments continued the debate of whether the increased tax was worth the benefits that could be reaped from this project.
Searcy resident Max Hughes said he was supportive of the library, but his skepticism kept him at an arm’s length from the project. He said he felt as though the math was not adding up on parts of the project and felt as though the funds could be used in better sectors, such as disaster recovery. He also expressed concern that the building would not be centrally located and his belief that the need for expansion was unnecessary.
“You have plenty of space here with no need to add more, as you already have more than most large cities,” Hughes said.
Searcy resident and Executive Director for the Literary Council for White County Dixie Evans stood opposed to Hughes in believing the benefits far outweighed the costliness. Evans said that everyone should have access to books, programs and other services that the library provides, especially children.
“Kids who have access to books know how to hold a book, how to interact with a book, and they develop a culture of reading,” Evans said.
Harding senior vocal music education major Daniel Smith was present at the town hall meeting and said he wishes Harding students could be more involved with the process as a way to give back to Searcy.
“(Libraries) can be such a viable aspect for the community,” Smith said.
Ino said there would likely be plenty of opportunities for Harding students to help and get help should the new library be constructed.
“Harding students can use the meeting rooms for tutoring and helping with the community with these programs,” Ino said. “We would love to see about bringing in student volunteers to help us with the computers and such in the new building.”
Should the vote pass, Ino said the expected groundbreaking date would be December 2017 and the expected opening date would be March 2019. The majority of the funds will come from local taxation, but donations will also be accepted. Any private or publicly fundraised donation can be given to the White County Public Libraries Friends Foundation, a nonprofit dedicated to supporting and enriching the capabilities, resources and services of the White County libraries. Ino mentioned that donations can go to a certain part of the library, such as a 3-D printer for a teen center or something a group would have a special interest in.